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House of Commons

Thursday 29 October 1992

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Madam Speaker-- in the Chair ]


British Railways (No.

4) Bill-- (By Order)

British Waterways Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

Crossrail Bill

(By Order)

East Coast Main Line (Safety) Bill

(By Order)

Greater Manchester (Light Rapid Transit System) Bill

[Lords] (By Order)

London Underground (Green Park) Bill

(By Order) Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 5 November.

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Oral Answers to Questions


Cross-border Security

1. Mr. Cyril D. Townsend : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on cross-border security co- operation between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Michael Mates) : The Irish Government share our determination that terrorism will not prevail and we work closely with them to ensure that co-operation on the ground is close. Much has been achieved, but more needs to be done and will be done. Both Governments are committed to securing improvements wherever possible.

Mr. Townsend : I thank my hon. Friend for his encouraging reply. Bearing in mind the increased importance of the intelligence services in London in the fight against the IRA, has co-operation with the south been improved as a result? Can he confirm to the House that intelligence from the Irish Republic has helped with the recent finds of explosives in London?

Mr. Mates : It is obviously difficult for me to share intelligence matters with the House and my hon. Friend, but I can tell him that co- operation between the intelligence services of the republic and ourselves has never been as good as it is now and that it is getting better all the time. That is reflected in the major finds that have been made in the republic of some of the arms and explosives that went there from Libya. Most notable of all is the increase in the information that we are getting in Northern Ireland and Great Britain from the public, who are as fed up as we are with this mindless terrorism.

Mr. Molyneaux : Have the Irish Government given any undertakings to introduce legislation to control those of their citizens who illegally reopen closed frontier crossings, particularly on the north Monaghan-south Tyrone terrorist supply route into the United Kingdom?

Mr. Mates : We continue to have to face that problem. As far as I know, the Irish Government have no intention of legislating on it, but together we are trying to find ways of getting rid of that nuisance.

Mr. Wilkinson : Will my hon. and gallant Friend consider having talks with his counterparts in the Home Office in London about the desirability of requiring all British citizens of the United Kingdom to carry identity cards and citizens of the Republic of Ireland to carry passports when they come to this country?

Mr. Mates : I can tell my hon. Friend with some relief that both those matters are for my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, not for my Department.

Mr. Madden : But the Minister must have a view on that important matter. Will he confirm that Her Majesty's Government are seeking to amend the common travel area agreement between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom? What effect will that have on those travelling

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between those two countries? Are there any plans to increase frontier controls between the republic and the north after the advent of the single market next year?

Mr. Mates : I do not believe that there are any plans to change the present common travel area arrangements. To do so would be an immensely complex task, given the large number of Irish citizens who live in this country and who come and go between here and the republic, as they always have. There will be no change to border controls once the single market comes into effect. Such controls as we have are for security reasons, not for trade reasons. We shall be able to continue those in the same way as we do now.

Higher Education

2. Mr. John Marshall : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland how many students are entering higher education in Northern Ireland this year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Jeremy Hanley) : It is estimated that around 14,400 new studentwill enter higher education in Northern Ireland institutions this year and 4,000 Northern Ireland students will enter higher education institutions in Great Britain.

Mr. Marshall : I thank my hon. Friend for his answer, which demonstrates that the doom-laden forecasts about the impact of student loans were completely inaccurate. Is the percentage of students entering higher education in Northern Ireland greater than in the United Kingdom as a whole?

Mr. Hanley : My hon. Friend is right. The total amount of money now available to students is 40 per cent. greater than in 1989-90, before student loans were introduced. The participation rate in Northern Ireland is extremely high : some 32 per cent. of those who are eligible for higher education take it up, as opposed to only 23 per cent. in Great Britain.

Mr. Beggs : Will the Minister confirm that £4 million per annum of United Kingdom public expenditure is provided to pay for tuition grants for students from the Republic of Ireland to attend United Kingdom universities? Will he confirm that there is no reciprocal arrangement with the Irish Republic? What steps are being taken to remove that anomaly? Does that expenditure reduce the amount of money that is available for education expenditure in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Hanley : The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. It is true that, in the forthcoming year, almost 2,400 students from the republic will be educated in Northern Ireland's higher education establishments. Under European Community regulations, we offer mandatory grants to allow anybody who comes to Northern Ireland to enjoy higher education. The republic does not offer mandatory grants and therefore does not have the same obligation to pay students. Understandably, many fewer students from Northern Ireland take up higher education in the south. We in Northern Ireland uphold our obligations, and are proud to do so. I assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no shortage of higher education places in Northern Ireland because of the attendance of students from elsewhere in the European Community. As our participation rate is higher, the number of people who

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participate is much higher than in other parts of Great Britain. I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that student numbers are being maintained and that we shall continue our obligations.

Mr. McGrady : Is the Minister aware that many students who enter secondary education come from families who can ill afford the extra necessities that that prolonged education requires? It is rumoured that the education and maintenance allowance, which the Minister knows is means- tested, is to be withdrawn. Will he confirm that that is not true and that the allowance will continue to enable students to benefit from further and higher education?

Mr. Hanley : Although next year's funding arrangements have yet to be decided, I do not imagine that maintenance grants will be removed entirely. Indeed, that benefit for students is an important part of education in Northern Ireland. We shall continue with our obligations.

United States

3. Dr. Spink : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what steps he has taken to reduce the support received by terrorists from citizens of the United States.

Mr. Mates : Our posts in the United States have made great efforts to reduce financial support for the IRA. The signs are that financial support to terrorist groups has declined, but our efforts continue. On the other hand, United States' contributions to bodies such as the International Fund for Ireland continue to make a major impact for good, particularly in disadvantaged areas.

Dr. Spink : I welcome those positive statistics. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the security forces on their recent success in the east end of London? What efforts is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that terrorists' sources of financial support, wherever they may be, are cut off?

Mr. Mates : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning the explosives finds, which will have brought much relief to those who feared more bombing on the mainland. Let us hope that we have put an end to that for the moment. My hon. Friend rightly said that it is vital that we cut off the terrorists' sources of finance. A special unit in the Northern Ireland Office is devoted to doing just that and the fraud squad, special branch and the Royal Ulster Constabulary are working as hard as they can to stop not only the inward flow of funds but some of the rackets and illegal activities that are taking place in Northern Ireland, by which terrorists finance their campaigns.

Mr. Trimble : I am sure that the Minister will agree that the anti- racketeering squad of the RUC has had significant successes in reducing the flow of funds--to such an extent, we are led to believe, that the IRA is now having difficulty in financing its terrorist operations in this part of the United Kingdom. Does he agree that, in the light of that fact, it is especially important that effective action is taken in the United States, especially by United States Government agencies? In that context, does the Minister

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further agree that it is regrettable that there is a Republican candidate in the election who openly backs terrorist organisations?

Mr. Mates : I agree with everything in the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. As to what is taking place in the United States, we certainly must, and we will, continue our campaign to persuade United States citizens that what some of them believe is aid for humanitarian causes is nothing of the sort, but is aid to terrorists. Through our posts there, through visits by Ministers and by a general climate of persuading the United States to understand the problem in Northern Ireland, we seek to reduce that source of funds and eventually to eliminate it.

Sir James Kilfedder : Part of Main street in Bangor, in the heart of my constituency, was blasted by an IRA car bomb last week. Fortunately, no one was killed. Will my hon. Friend confirm that many of the victims of IRA terrorism over the past 20 years--people who have been killed or maimed-- have suffered as a result of money contributed to the IRA cause by American supporters? As my hon. Friend suggested earlier, perhaps he will tell people in America that the best way to help the people of Northern Ireland is to contribute to organisations that do good and which bring peace to those people.

Mr. Mates : I entirely agree. We have made great strides in persuading our friends in the United States that the money must be properly directed to organisations such as the International Fund for Ireland, which I have already mentioned. My hon. Friend is right to say that without funds the terrorists would not be able to wreak their havoc. That is why we shall continue to make it a top priority to cut them off from funds, from whichever source those funds come.

Bill of Rights

4. Mr. Barnes : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on progress towards a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : The safeguarding of human rights in Northern Ireland is a matter for consideration within the current political talks. The Government believe that substantial protection for human rights is already in place, but we are of course willing to consider proposals for further strengthening.

Mr. Barnes : There is wide support in Northern Ireland for a Bill of Rights, and it seems sensible that provisions that give firm protection to individual rights, rather than limited and restricted measures which could be considered Mickey Mouse measures, should be written in almost as part of a constitution. Such measures--for example, access to solicitors for defendants--would give a solid defence to both Protestant and Catholic citizens in Northern Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The hon. Gentleman and I agree that what matters is the reality of human rights--their substance and their enforceability. We believe that those tests are already well fulfilled in Northern Ireland. There are interesting controversies about written constitutions and written Bills of Rights. The hon. Gentleman and I know that some of the worst dictatorships have been in countries with written constitutions. What matters is the

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reality. The Government have an entirely open mind, and would certainly not wish to brush aside any seriously argued proposal for improvements in the human rights already established in Northern Ireland.

Mr. Clifford Forsythe : Is the Secretary of State aware that the Ulster Unionist party has supported the introduction of a Bill of Rights since 1975? Does he agree that, if such a Bill were introduced, it should cover the whole of the United Kingdom, so that all Government Departments, no matter which part of the United Kingdom they served, were covered by it?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : Yes, I am aware of the attitude and policy of the hon. Gentleman and of his party. I note that their desire is that there should be as little distinction as possible between legislation affecting Northern Ireland and that affecting the rest of the United Kingdom, for reasons that I entirely understand. There are certain arguments about a Bill of Rights which go in the other direction and they have been ventilated in the House in recent debates. I fully understand what the hon. Gentleman says. He knows that his viewpoint is represented in the present talks.

Constitutional Talks

6. Mr. Winnick : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland.

10. Mr. Riddick : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the latest developments concerning the constitutional talks on the future of Northern Ireland.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I shall continue to do all I can to achieve a positive outcome for the talks, which all the participants, under the distinguished guidance of Sir Ninian Stephen, have been and are still working hard to secure progress. The Government remain determined to find a widely acceptable basis for effecting a significant transfer of power and authority to locally accountable institutions within a framework of relationships that are stable within Northern Ireland, in the island of Ireland and between the people of these islands.

Mr. Winnick : If the talks do not succeed--if that is the case, no blame will be attached to the Secretary of State--does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that it will be even more important to have the closest links between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, including on matters involving Northern Ireland ? Should not those links have been there from the beginning ? Now that they have been established, they should remain, for obvious reasons.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's opening remark. I have been concentrating my attention, as has everyone taking part in the talks, on their succeeding. I have not spent very much time contemplating the possibility of their failing. If we do not reach heads of agreement within the short time remaining, that will be regarded by all as merely the arrival of another intermission in a process which has had a number of intermissions. I hope and believe that we shall take up the process thereafter, starting a good way further down the road than many believed possible.

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I agree that close links with the Republic of Ireland are desirable. We have friendly relationships with the Government of Ireland and we are in close co-operation with them on many aspects. That is very much to be encouraged.

Mr. Riddick : But now that a deadline looms, does my right hon. and learned Friend believe that it will be possible to reach heads of agreement by 16 November?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to that date. It is the date of the next intergovernmental conference under the Anglo-Irish Agreement. As my hon. Friend knows, it has always been the understanding that the political talks should take place during a gap or intermission. The previous conference was on 27 April, since when there have been two further postponements. Accordingly, the two Heads of Government, the Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, agreed that the final extension should end on 16 November. I believe that it is practically possible for us to reach heads of agreement within that time and everyone concerned is working hard to achieve that. I will not tell my hon. Friend whether I think it probable or not. The main point is that everyone is working towards that and I believe that it is a practical possibility.

Mr. Maginnis : Does the Secretary of State accept that it is becoming virtually impossible, irrespective of the total commitment of the Government and of the Ulster Unionist party, for any delegation to negotiate meaningfully with an Irish Government who are so acrimoniously divided by in-fighting and who are so obviously split on both political and ethical issues?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The hon. Gentleman is taking an

uncharacteristically pessimistic view. While not adopting or, I hope, appearing to adopt the language he used, I reiterate that I believe that it is entirely practicable for all parties, with the assistance of his own, to reach a successful conclusion within the time available.

Mr. Hunter : Now that the constitutional talks have reached such a sensitive position, does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those of us who care deeply for the island of Ireland can usefully employ our time urging party leaders to reach positive conclusions and to remember that failure to do so could well result in the furthering of the cause of men of violence on both sides of the sectarian divide?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a close interest in the affairs of the Province, and who was there only the other day. I believe that those who lead the parties involved are well aware of the strength of public opinion. Those who have longer experience in these matters than I do tell me that there is something quite new about the strength of public opinion demanding that the politicians get something better together. That is entirely encouraging, and I believe that it is well known to those who lead the parties.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the potentially harmful consequences if the process came to an end.

Mr. Mallon : As one who has spent the past three years involved in the talks process--right from the time at which it was initiated by the previous Secretary of State--I think that it is time that we knew the British Government's mind

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on a fundamental question : can we ever settle the problem on the basis of partition? I should like to hear the Secretary of State's view on that. Does it accord with the view of the situation in Cyprus given by his right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary yesterday at column 1008 of Hansard :

"I do not agree partition can be the basis"--

Madam Speaker : Order. I cannot allow quotations during Question Time, but I am sure that the Secretary of State has got the hon. Gentleman's point.

Mr. Mallon : The Foreign Secretary made it clear that he did not believe that partition could be the basis for a settlement in Cyprus and that only in the context of rule by one sovereign Government could a lasting solution be found. Is that the Government's view in relation to the other place that they partitioned--the place where I live--or does not the Secretary of State share the view of the Foreign Secretary?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The hon. Gentleman has, indeed, been engaged in the talks for a very long time and, with each succeeding month, he has become more ingenious in asking questions.

For my part, I am entirely satisfied that it is possible for us to reach a successful conclusion to the talks within the time available and within the constitutional guarantee set out in the House by my predecessor on 26 March 1991. That statement was the product of diligent consultation and discussion in which the hon. Gentleman and his party played a part.

It was well understood by all that that constitutional guarantee would be the basis upon which the British Government entered the talks. It follows from that that, of course, we think now--as we thought then--that it is possible to bring the talks to a successful conclusion within the terms and continuity of that guarantee. That is the proper answer for me to give the hon. Gentleman, and it certainly represents my sincere belief.

Mr. Bill Walker : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, in other parts of the United Kingdom, although we wish the talks well and hope that Northern Ireland will eventually have local government similar to that in the rest of the United Kingdom, we feel that anything beyond that could have constitutional implications of great magnitude, particularly in Scotland?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I understand my hon. Friend's point. At the moment, however, I am responsible for the affairs of Northern Ireland. I was surprised enough to find myself in that position, and I do not propose to enlarge upon that jurisdiction for the time being.

Mr. McNamara : The Secretary of State will be aware that the whole House hopes that the talks will end on a positive note. It is for that reason that the House has exercised a self-denying ordinance over the past 18 months in quizzing successive Secretaries of State on the progress of the talks. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman now undertake to make a statement to the House when the current series of talks concludes? Will he couple that statement with the publication of a statement of what appear to be the agreed positions of the parties--including, if necessary, a note of heads of agreement--to be counterbalanced by a list of areas of contention? In each case, will he state Her Majesty's Government's attitude to the problems? Finally, will he try to arrange

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with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for an opportunity for us to debate the current state of the talks before Christmas?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I acknowledge what the hon. Gentleman said and that the House has been very understanding on all sides about the need for reticence and the confidentiality which the parties to the talks have said should apply. I think that the House would be entitled to a statement from me at the conclusion of the talks--whether for good or ill. I therefore undertake to make such a statement.

The hon. Gentleman then became rather more particular about the contents of such a statement. I believe that it will be sensible for the parties to agree what kind of public statement shall be made when the talks conclude-- whether successfully or unsuccessfully. Therefore, I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the undertaking for which he asks about the particularity of the statement. However, the House is certainly entitled to a sensible account of where we are, how we got there, what has happened and, within reason, why.

Lady Olga Maitland : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that great tribute should be paid to those who have taken part in the talks? It has not been easy for some, but the talks have continued and I wish for the best in future. However, we should bear it in mind that the talks have the great support of the communities outside which wish them well. A successful outcome will guarantee economic success for Northern Ireland and attract inward investment if there is a settled future.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. She takes a close interest in these matters and she was in the Province the other day with three Opposition Members. I was glad to see them all. I am grateful for the tribute that my hon. Friend paid to those who have taken part in the talks. Their diligence, courage and imagination reflect the desire of ordinary people in the Province--and more widely--that they should come to a successful conclusion. They will not succeed if everybody thinks that, individually, they must get the best and absolutely everything that they are looking for. They will succeed if there is a process of give and take and I believe that that is on the cards.

Republic of Ireland (Constitution)

7. Mr. John D. Taylor : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland when he requested the Government of the Republic of Ireland to agree changes to articles 2 and 3 of the southern Irish constitution.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The Government's view on articles 2 and 3 is well known to the Irish Government and to the House. I do not wish to break the agreed confidentiality of the talks process. I can, however, refer the hon. Member to the answer which I gave to the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Rev. Martin Smyth) on Friday 3 July.

Mr. Taylor : Does the Secretary of State recognise that most independent observers agree that articles 2 and 3 represent one of the main obstacles to real co-operation within the island of Ireland? Is he not surprised that even at this late stage, the Dublin Government have failed to

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make any positive contribution to removing an obstacle which could, if it were removed, have brought about better co- operation?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : Anybody who follows the published accounts and commentaries on the talks process will have seen that considerable importance is attached to the subject that the right hon. Gentleman raises. However, I am going to resist his invitation to comment on the position of the Irish Government or, indeed, on the position of anyone else in the talks process. It is far better that we should use the short time available to negotiate privately and quietly in the way that is happening at the moment instead of making comments in public. Therefore, I am afraid that I must conclude my reply on that note.

Rev. William McCrea : Does the Secretary of State agree that the vast majority of the people of Northern Ireland desire to remain part of the United Kingdom? Therefore, for good neighbourly relationships between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, it is essential to remove the offending articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution. Have the Dublin authorities shown willingness to have them removed and indicated that accordingly?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : The hon. Gentleman will recall that some considerable time ago the Taoiseach made it clear that articles 2 and 3 were on the table, along with any other constitutional matter, in the talks process. Accordingly, I am glad about that, as was my predecessor. The hon. Gentleman can be quite satisfied that full advantage is being taken in the talks of the ability to discuss all matters of constitutional issue including the one that concerns the hon. Gentleman now.

Mr. Mallon : Possibly the Secretary of State should confirm that, over a long period, four Cabinet Ministers from the Government of the Republic of Ireland were sitting in the talks with himself and the rest of us trying to get agreement to help solve the problem. While we were doing that, other people were sitting out sniping in the wings, and one of the most prominent snipers was the right hon. Member for Strangford (Mr. Taylor), who tabled this question.


8. Mr. Ian Bruce : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make a statement on the level of tourism to Northern Ireland.

12. Mr. Jenkin : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what action is being taken to improve training in tourist-related services.

The Minister of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Robert Atkins) : In 1991, 1.18 million visitors came to Northern Ireland, which was a 3 per cent. increase on the 1990 level. Figures for 1992 are not yet available, but it is estimated that there could be a similar percentage increase. The Training and Employment Agency is actively encouraging training in tourism and related services throughout the industry, together with the newly established Tourism and Hospitality training council, which is an industry- led body.

Mr. Bruce : I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent answer about an expansion in tourism, despite the market

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in the United Kingdom being rather flat this year. What additional measures can the Northern Ireland Office take to encourage people to enjoy the wonderful scenery, good food and very warm welcome of which they can be assured if they visit the Province?

Mr. Atkins : One of the contributory factors to ensuring that people come to Northern Ireland is the comment by my hon. Friend for which I and many people in Northern Ireland are very grateful. We have determined that tourism is a sector of great potential growth and that more people will visit this year than last year. If I have a message for the House, it is that the people of Northern Ireland would like to see as many hon. Members as possible take their holidays there. They would be very welcome and they would learn even more about Northern Ireland than they do from Northern Ireland Question Time.

Mr. Jenkin : Does my hon. Friend agree that training the work force is as important for the tourist industry as it is for any other industry? Are the Government laying enough emphasis on training?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is essential that we realise that those involved in tourism have to offer a high-quality service so that people who come for a holiday are so impressed by the quality of service, the style with which that service is offered and the professionalism of those who are responsible for the various buildings, hotels and attractions, will come again. Therefore, the training that the Training and Employment Agency is encouraging is absolutely vital.

Mr. William Ross : The hon. Gentleman will understand that the provision of a tourism infrastructure is a costly business. Will he ensure therefore that next year, when we have the chance to look for more EC structural funds, he will get the maximum amount and see to it that those funds are fully expended by being taken up by the various responsible bodies in Northern Ireland, rather than leaving a large part of them unexpended, as is the case this year?

Mr. Atkins : The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that we are always interested in getting whatever extra money we can to help tourism or anything else within the Province. Clearly, however, it is not as easy as he and I would like it to be. Of course I can assure him that if there is any spare money coming from Europe which could be put to good use in Northern Ireland, I shall be more than happy to take hold of it.

Mr. Peter Bottomley : Forty million Americans believe that they have Irish or Ulster ancestors. Will my hon. Friend encourage them to obtain passports and to visit Rathlin island to go to the lakes of Fermanagh, stand on the ancient hill fort of Navan looking to the twin cathedrals of Armagh, have a good holiday and contribute to peace, prosperity and justice in Northern Ireland?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend is such a distinguished predecessor of mine in this job that he was invited in his own right to Rathlin island to see for himself the new electricity development there. My hon. Friend is quite right. We need to attract as many people as we possibly can in the United States and in various other parts of the world. The Northern Ireland tourist board, together with my ministerial colleagues, spend as much time as they possibly can on that task.

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Mr. McGrady : Does the Minister agree that the tourist industry has the greatest potential for growth and development? In that light, will he give an assurance that he will take another look at the operations of the Northern Ireland tourist board to streamline and hasten its decisions, as it is the custodian not only of its own property but of the International Fund for Ireland? Will he further consider examining the planning regulations in Northern Ireland and revising rural planning to enable the enhancement of tourist facilities in the rural community?

Mr. Atkins : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the point about rural matters. Clearly, we shall be keen to encourage the use of rural houses-- [Interruption.] in Bolsover as well as Northern Ireland. I have asked the chairman of the tourist board to consider how best we can encourage visitors to use some of the derelict or semi-derelict cottages in the rural areas of Northern Ireland, for example in the constituency of the hon. Members for South Down (Mr. McGrady). Such houses could be put to attractive and good use by those whom we wish to encourage to visit the Province.

Mr. Elletson : Will my hon. Friend also consider levels of tourism from Northern Ireland? Will he take the opportunity to make it clear to the many thousands of people from Northern Ireland who visit Blackpool every year that they continue to be assured of a warm welcome in Britain's incontestably premier tourist resort?

Mr. Atkins : My hon. Friend, who is a neighbour of mine in Lancashire, speaks glowingly of Blackpool which many of us have visited for differing reasons. If we can encourage people to visit Northern Ireland in the same numbers as they currently visit Blackpool, we shall provide an enormous number of jobs and a great deal of attraction. However, perhaps Northern Ireland ought not to be so glitzy as Blackpool. I suspect that the green and clean image of Northern Ireland and its environmental attractions are as important as anything else.

Mr. William O'Brien : I welcome the Minister's reply on the encouragement of tourism and training because the tourist industry will have a great impact on the economy of Northern Ireland. Will the Minister explain what action his Department is taking to encourage tourism from the republic into Northern Ireland and from Northern Ireland into the republic?

Mr. Atkins : The tourist board talks regularly with Bord Failte--the tourist board in the south of Ireland--with a view to encouraging joint presentations especially in the United States to encourage people to come to the island of Ireland and perhaps see both parts of the island. The more that I can do to encourage cross-border tourist activity and many other economic and industrial activities, the better it will be for both sides of the border.

Women's Groups

9. Mrs. Fyfe : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with women's groups on peacekeeping in local communities.

Mr. Hanley : I am pleased to have had recent meetings in Northern Ireland with representatives of the Women's Education Project, the Workers Education Association

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and the Women's Support Network, where a wide range of topics, but not specifically the subject of peacekeeping, were constructively discussed.

Mrs. Fyfe : I thank the Minister for his answer. Does he agree that it is difficult for women's views to be heard in Northern Ireland, especially as only three women have ever been elected to any parliamentary seat in Northern Ireland? Women's groups are generally kept short of public funding which would assist them in making their views heard. Will the Minister and his colleagues follow the welcome initiative of the previous Secretary of State in hosting a reception for women at Hillsborough castle? It was the first initiative of its kind and was very welcome. I hope that progress will be made from it.

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